Sensory Storytime - supporting our neurodiverse community

Mom and child reading at a library

For families looking for a welcoming space for children on the autism spectrum or those that would like a more adaptive storytime experience, Sensory Storytime is an inclusive and interactive program. 

Sensory Storytime is a weekly online event supporting neurodiverse families. Children get a chance to have fun with the library while staying at home in a safe and predictable place. 

“My kids are on the autism spectrum, and the pandemic meant they were completely out of their regular therapies for a long time. The Sensory Storytime was a lifeline during those times, and continues to be. They practice turn-taking, and the activities are super fun and engaging!” says Carmem, a Storytime parent. 

Children with sensory processing differences may have a tough time coming to the library due to sounds, lighting or other stimuli. The way that each child reacts to new spaces and interactions can be completely different, and there is not a one size fits all approach. 

“We have really valued all of the virtual options for learning that allow my child to be in her own space, but also be exposed to other children… activities as simple as finger drawing in salt in a tray help me (as a parent) think of simple, creative, engaging activities to keep us all busy,” says Taylor, another Storytime parent. 

Prior to the pandemic, Sensory Storytime was offered in person, and attendance was relatively low. In 2020, all events and programs switched to online. More families began to join in this storytime. 

“When Covid pushed storytimes online, we had the pleasant surprise that our reach to this community grew. Rather than the handful of families coming to in-person storytime, our Zoom storytimes often have as many as 50 families that register in a given session, and some families have been with us since the pandemic started,” says Kri Schlafer, bilingual library assistant. 

During each session of Sensory Storytime the instructors, Kri and Karen, show the children a visual schedule. They refer to the schedule throughout the storytime to help participants track what's happening in storytime, and what they will be doing next. As part of the schedule, they take time to say hello, sing, stretch and move, and read a couple of stories together. The storytime ends with a sensory activity, a rhyme, and saying goodbye. 

The library provides all program supplies not commonly found at home. Families can pick activity kits up at their local library branch or request that kits be mailed directly to their homes.

“Every week is full of songs, stories and an activity based on that week’s theme. It is all age group appropriate, but also manages to be inclusive for children with different needs and abilities. Finding activities that my son (with expressive language disorder) can participate in has been daunting, but this has been the perfect fit for us,” says Grace, a Storytime parent.

Sensory Storytime is one of several resources assisting with accessibility needs. Every library is equipped with a Sensory Accommodation Kit. These kits provide tools to help with background noises and other distractions. Kits can include a wiggle cushion, fidgets, and other items. In addition, patrons can request a free set of headphones at any library location.

For a sensory learning experience, families can find interactive learning and play structures in the children’s section of several libraries. 

With the upcoming Library Capital Bond project, there will be more changes to spaces to better accommodate neurodiverse people— like the sensory room that will be added to the updated Midland library. 

Through the bond work, library spaces will be updated to better reflect the needs of the community. Long gone is the idea that the library has to be a quiet space, but rather it is meant to be a community space for all to feel welcome.

Registration is now open for the Sensory Storytime summer session (July 12-August 23). And, if you want to enjoy storytime, but can’t make it live, take a look at the library’s Sensory Storytime videos. Welcome to the library!